I Had Cancer As A Teenager... Would I Want To Be Treated By The NHS Today?

Photo: Supachok Pichetkul/EyeEm
Crisis is a big word. Sure, we add it after ‘identity’ and ‘quarter-life’ as part of our all-too regular self-analysis routines but, at its core, the term speaks of intense difficulty and danger. An emergency; catastrophe; calamity. Right now, our National Health Service is in crisis.
Announcements of government-approved funding cuts are resulting in hospitals closing, bed pressures rising and the seriously ill suffering. Moira Fraser, director of policy at Macmillan Cancer Support, describes this time as "symptomatic of a system that is struggling to keep up with the ever-increasing demands being placed on it" and, just last week, the BBC announced that in the midst of delayed treatment and surgery, the lives of UK cancer patients are at an "all-time high" risk.
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I was 14 years old when Hodgkin lymphoma found its way into my body; a toxic interruption that decided to reside with me for almost a year. Being of high school age, the alarming physical threat brought a social one, too, as I hit an unwanted pause on important coming-of-age moments like school politics, friendship group switch-ups and high-priority teen socialising.
Over this time, it took one biopsy, two blood transfusions, five operations, six cycles of chemotherapy and an infinite number of hospital appointments to bring me to a place of remission. A long, uncertain journey that was only signed off with hope due to the relentless work of the NHS.
It’s true that most of us have had at least one deeply personal collision with cancer through friends, family members or ourselves. With this in mind, reading about current public service struggles becomes all the more real. You can imagine, then, that my rollercoaster with my own health leaves me wondering: If I were receiving the same diagnosis today, what would my story be?
The BBC has reported that although the NHS aims to treat patients within 62 days from the first sign of suspected cancer, nowhere in the UK has achieved this for more than two years, and currently one in six patients are waiting longer than they should to begin their treatment. In a real account, Florence, a deputy ward sister explains: "I see an excessive number of newly diagnosed patients being admitted into my department on a daily basis. These patients generally need their treatment to start immediately, that is, within hours of diagnosis and admission. Sadly, this is often delayed from the very start of their cancer journey."
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Receiving a cancer diagnosis is like being told you’ve been picked at random to enter into a battle against your own body. When I was handed my sword all those years ago, I was told that I had just one day – not over 62 – to wait for treatment. Fraser says: "Long waits to start cancer treatment can make an already difficult time even more distressing and unbearable, while also raising the possibility of someone’s health deteriorating further."
When you’re sick, prolonged medicine wait times understandably bring an ever-growing anxiety and fear for the future. Enter the temptation to go private. As with many people, I suspected private healthcare was unobtainable, but I didn’t know just how far from it I really was. In a 2011 report, Bupa predicted that over the following decade (ie. where we stand today), the average cost of cancer treatment per person would amount to at least £40,000. Compare that to your salary, savings account or altogether net worth for a truly tea-spitting statistic.
Last summer, I became 10 years cancer-free. I threw a big party, bought an outrageous dress and celebrated life surrounded by my friends and family. We cried and danced and I thanked them for their support of course, but the truest heights of my gratitude go to the people who make up the teams that treated me. NHS staff are golden. And golden people require gold to be poured into them. My everlasting hope is that those who are running the institution will learn how to invest in them again, increasingly and forever.
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